Psalms 22 is a Messianic Psalm. It begins “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” and is written as though the Messiah is speaking. This whole chapter is amazing, written approximately 1,000 years before the birth of Christ, and centuries before the punishment of crucifixion would even be invented. Yet it perfectly illustrates, down to the words spoken and things that Jesus would have no control over, that unbelievable day of Jesus’ sacrifice.
I’m especially drawn to verse 6:
“But I am a worm, and no man; a reproach of men, and despised of the people.”
As I read that verse, I can’t help but think of the Isaac Watts hymn “At the Cross”:
Alas! and did my Savior bleed
And did my Sov’reign die?
Would He devote that sacred head
For such a worm as I?
I’m completely comfortable with the idea of myself as a lowly worm, but Jesus? God in flesh? We all spent the weekend hearing about how He allowed Himself to become the sacrifice, and be made the lowest of humanity. But even lower than that? A worm? What does he mean?
The Hebrew word used here for worm is “Towla” and refers to the scarlet worm, Coccus Ilicis.
The Coccus Ilicis is actually more insect than worm, with the male having wings and flying around, with the female on land. Once the female is ready to give birth, however, she’ll climb the trunk of a tree and fix herself to it so permanently and deeply that she will never be able to leave that spot again. She’ll lay her eggs under her body in order to protect them until they hatch and those larvae are able to go on their own. As the mother dies, she releases a crimson fluid that stains the tree and her own body. This worm would then be crushed to make the scarlet dyes of Jesus’ day.
Thy body slain, sweet Jesus, Thine—
And bathed in its own blood—
While the firm mark of wrath divine,
His soul in anguish stood.
Jesus came, fixed himself to a tree, bled and died that you and I could be born again.
The scarlet dye was deep and penetrating. It wasn’t easily faded by rain or wear, and it couldn’t be washed out. But this is what Isaiah writes concerning this dye and the Day of Atonement:
“Come now , and let us reason together , saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.”
On the Day of Atonement the high priest would sacrifice a bull for himself, and then take two goats and hold what was known as the lottery of the goats. They would cast lots and one goat was marked for YAHWEH and sacrificed, and the other goat was marked for “azazel” or “for absolute removal” — the scapegoat. The priest would tie a scarlet thread between the horns of the scapegoat, place his hands on its head, and proclaim the sins of Israel onto it.
In Leviticus we read that this goat was released into the wilderness, forsaken. In the Talmud, it’s recorded that the scapegoat was led to a cliff, where it was pushed over the edge. There were men placed along points down the cliff, and as the goat fell and was beaten beyond recognition, the Talmud records that the thread would turn from scarlet to white. The men would wave flags to signal back to the priest, signaling that this was finished.
It is finished.
Jesus paid our debt. He atoned for our sins. It was finished once and for all on that day. No more sacrifices. No more blood from bulls or goats. Jesus paid it all.
The coccus ilicis, this worm that paints such a picture of Jesus, takes its name from two Latin words. “Coccus” meaning “scarlet” and “ilicis” meaning…”it is finished.” The last words the worm, Jesus, spoke before dying on the cross.
But drops of grief can ne’er repay
The debt of love I owe:
Here, Lord, I give myself away,
’Tis all that I can do.